A prominent LGBTQ rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced Thursday that it will host a presidential town hall on LGBTQ issues next month. The event will air on CNN.
LGBTQ advocacy groups told ThinkProgress that they know exactly what ideas they want to hear discussed at the town hall set for Oct. 10, which is National Coming Out Day. Many said that first and foremost, they want candidates to acknowledge the struggles of the most marginalized in the community, including LGBTQ people of color, and put forward policies to respond to anti-LGBTQ bias in the criminal justice system.
“LGBTQ people are more likely to come into contact with the police due to discriminatory policing, be incarcerated, and experience violence while locked up than non-LGBTQ people. Black and Latinx LGBTQ people are most impacted,” Tyrone Hanley, senior policy counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told ThinkProgress.
Hanley said that aspirants to the White House must put criminal justice reform as one of the issues topping their list. “Candidates must demonstrate an understanding that anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence is impacted by issues of race, gender, and class just as they are for other communities,” he said.
The town hall comes at a critical time, as the Trump administration has rolled back health-care protections for transgender people and protections for transgender students, implemented a ban on transgender people in the military, and proposed a rule that allows broad religious exemptions for businesses with federal contracts.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have accepted the invitation to the town hall, and others may yet join them.
HRC invited candidates who reach at least 2% in four national polls chosen by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and who have met the DNC’s threshold of 130,000 unique donors.
The candidates will answer questions from CNN journalists and the members of the audience at back-to-back town halls over the course of the evening. LGBTQ advocates have a broad range of issues on their list of topics they want to see discussed.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he’d like to see how each candidate stands on reversing the president’s ban on military service by transgender troops. Minter said he would like the candidates to acknowledge that health care, poverty, and food insecurity are all LGBTQ issues.
And, he added, the candidates should also demonstrate how they would carry on the progress of the Obama administration when it comes to tackling the issue of conversion therapy, programs in which young people are told they can and should change their sexual orientation and in some cases, their gender. The American Medical Association has said conversion therapy, especially in youth, may cause significant psychological distress.
“While regulating that issue falls primarily to the states, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a groundbreaking report on the harms caused to minors by conversion therapy in 2015 that has played a key role in supporting state legislation,” Minter said.
“We would very much like to see candidates pledge to continue and expand such educational efforts. The president’s voice is powerful, and we urgently need national leadership on this issue, which poses such a severe threat to the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth.”
Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action for the National LGBTQ Task Force, echoed the views of others in saying that the presidential candidates should focus on the community’s most vulnerable populations.
“When we are having conversations with policymakers, we typically ask about issues affecting members of our community who are most deeply marginalized and in particular thinking about people who may have multiple marginalized identities,” Long Simmons said.
“They may be undocumented or transgender or gender-nonconforming. They may be racial minorities or religious minorities. All of those things are things we tend to highlight when we’re in conversations with people,” she said.
She added that candidates have to understand how all issues connect to the LGBTQ community and roll back many of the anti-LGBTQ policies of the Trump administration, which have undone much of the work of the Obama administration to bolster LGBTQ rights.
“There’s not an issue out there that is being discussed that doesn’t directly impact members of our community,” she said.
“We would want to be involved in as many ways possible to shape policy because we know that, given the way society is structured, whether it’s climate change or healthcare policy or criminal justice policy, all of the things decision-makers put out affect our community and so we want to make sure they don’t worsen some of the conditions we’re currently grappling with.”
In a statement to ThinkProgress, Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and legal director at Lambda Legal, said that candidates need to explain how they would use “all of the tools at their disposal,” including the bully pulpit, executive powers, and legislative acton where possible to address and reverse the policies of the Trump administration.
McGowan said of these policies, “These harms include this administration’s weaponization of religion as an enemy of civil rights protections for LGBTQ people (among others), and the ways in which this administration has taken aim at the most vulnerable in our community, including transgender people, young people, and LGBTQ people of color.”
She said Lambda Legal would also like to see the candidates “discuss the damage that has been done to the federal judiciary by the appointment of scores of anti-LGBTQ ideologues to lifetime positions on the federal bench, and how they intend to address this crisis.”
As other organizations have said, McGowan said candidates need to understand that all policy issues, whether they be safe schools, police misconduct, and treatment in government custody, are all LGBTQ issues.
In his statement announcing the town hall, HRC President Alphonso David said that despite enormous gains in the past decade, there remain a number of areas where LGBTQ people face discrimination and disadvantages “because of who we are.”
“Today, in 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted, or denied services because of who we are. Thirty-five states have yet to ban the dangerous and debunked practice of ‘conversion therapy,’ which is harming our young people. Hate crimes are rising, and more than 100 transgender people — most of whom are transgender women of color — have been killed in the United States in the last five years,” David said.
Many Democratic candidates acknowledged the LGBTQ community during the first presidential debate in June. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said that violence against transgender people of color was a serious issue that the country needs to address. At least 16 transgender people have been killed this year, according to HRC, and the overwhelming majority of these murders were of black trans women. Last year, there were at least 26 killings of transgender people.
Castro called for making health care inclusive to trans people, although he misspoke about which trans people should be considered when he talked about reproductive justice. Warren used inclusive language to discuss how the economy isn’t working for Latinx people. Klobuchar also mentioned shifting attitudes in marriage equality.
Several candidates for the Democratic nomination have released plans in the past few months on how they plan to tackle policy issues that affect the LGBTQ community.
Warren released proposals and policies designed to advance LGBTQ rights. Her ideas included supporting the Equality Act, reversing President Donald Trump’s military trans ban, a vow to “protect civil rights for transgender people,” outlawing conversion therapy, reversing the State Department’s denial of family visas to same-sex domestic partners of diplomats, and ending discrimination against queer men who are currently barred from donating blood.
Warren tweeted in August about a trans woman of color who died in isolation at Rikers Island, “Let’s be clear: Layleen Cubilette-Polanco should still be alive. Solitary confinement is cruel and inhumane. We must end this practice, enforce strict standards for medical care, and provide extra layers of protection for LGBTQ+ people.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has released his plan to fight for LGBTQ rights, which included reversing the trans military ban, directing the Justice Department to investigate crimes against transgender people, specifically trans women of color, and making sure that LGBTQ people are included in federal data collection efforts.
Last month, some of the candidates spoke about the needs of transgender Americans with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Action Fund for its Transform the White House initiative.
Booker and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke at length about their approach to advancing transgender equality. They spoke on issues such as rolling back Trump administration policies that undid much of the progress of the Obama administration on transgender equality, violence against transgender people and the criminal justice system, and economic policies that would improve trans people’s lives.
In later interviews, Castro and Klobuchar spoke with the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund. Castro mentioned discrimination against transgender people in housing, the large share of homeless youth who are LGBTQ, and the detainment of transgender immigrants.
Klobuchar said she would reverse the trans military ban in her first 100 days and touted her support of national nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people over the years.
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